While Professor Saida Grundy has not actually started teaching at Boston University, she is already facing calls for her removal from the faculty. After being hired by BU, Grundy let loose with a series of tweets that are denounced as racist and sexist. Grundy tweeted, for example, “White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges.” The tweets have triggered a debate over whether there is a double standard for such comments and whether such comments should be treated as protected speech.
In a January tweet, Grundy wrote: “Every MLK week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. and every year i find it nearly impossible.” Previously, she posted comments like“Deal with your white sh*t, white people. slavery is a *YALL* thing.”
Brundy is expected to start teaching in June and Boston University spokesman Colin Riley insisted “Professor Grundy is exercising her right to free speech and we respect her right to do so.”
The controversy has raised the question of whether a white professor denouncing blacks or females as the problem on college campuses would be viewed as suitable to teach. We have seen offers withdrawn after newly hired professors posted anti-Israeli tweets. Likewise, there were demands for the termination of a math professor at Rochester for controversial comments about rape.
The question is where to draw the line. As might be expected, I tend to gravitate instinctively toward free speech in most of these cases, including the most recent involving Professor Grundy. While I find her comments bizarre and biased, she made these comments in social media and has not been accused of treating white or male students in a discriminatory or abusive manner. Indeed, she has not taught any students at BU. The key however is that the school must be prepared to show the same tolerance for the next professor who makes what are viewed as racist or sexist comments of a different kind. The concern is that colleges and universities are engaging in selective enforcement and content-based regulation of speech. Ironically, Grundy may lay the foundation for a future lawsuit at the school if it proceeds against a white racist or a sexist professor. Her retention would be evidence that could be used in a case of disparate treatment.
What do you think?